5 Ultra Sharp Japanese Knives
The Orient; home of magic and mysticism, and the Japanese knife.
From Ashigur and Samurai warriors to Ninja and mythical dragons, the West is captivated by the Far East and its history.
Japan is renowned for seafood, and their knives have become synonymous with style and finesse.
This blog explores why the Japanese knife makers deserve their reputation for being one of the world’s best knife creators and present five of the sharpest knives in the Dalstrong collection.
- What Makes a Japanese Kitchen Knife So Desirable?
- Japanese Knives vs German Knives
- Japanese Knife Types and Their Names
- 5 Ultra Sharp Japanese Knives
- Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Knives
1. What Makes a Japanese Kitchen Knife So Desirable?
Are we in the West, caught up in praise for a blade that doesn’t quite live up to its reputation? No, not at all!
These high carbon steel blades are exceptional, from the legendary Japanese Samurai sword to the fine Japanese knife we know today.
The Japanese chef’s knife, in particular, is sought after throughout the world.
Unfortunately, not too long ago prices for these knives were beyond most budgets. Nowadays, whether a professional sushi chef or a home cook looking for a durable kitchen knife, you’ll find one to suit your pocket.
Professional chefs look for a well-balanced chef knife that’s lightweight, preferably high carbon stainless steel for hygiene and cleanliness, and comfortable to hold.
If a knife is meant to slice, handle length and balance are vital considerations. These high carbon steel blades are exceptional for a sharp edge.
A chef knife needs to facilitate repetitive and straightforward sharpening yet last for years.
However, what might surprise you is that it’s not only the carbon steel that makes a traditional Japanese knife so exceptional.
The sharp edge of a fine Japanese knife is due to three other main factors;1. The carbon steel
Steel is an alloy consisting of iron and a proportion of carbon. The higher the carbon content, the harder the steel. A Japanese blade contains a high carbon steel content, making it harder than the German knife it is so often compared with. But, with hardness comes more brittleness, so extra care is needed in maintaining Japanese knives. European knives are typically forged to a slightly softer hardness and generally have a thicker blade.2. A thinner blade
The sharp edge is slightly superior to its Western counterparts due to its thinner blade finishing. With a thinner blade, less acute honing is possible. For example, a Japanese knife is honed to 15 degrees, whereas a German knife is 20 degrees. This angle is determined for a single bevel, and most knives from Japan are single bevel.3. Single bevel edge
Single beveling has an advantage as this produces a fine, sharp edge, perfect for filleting fish and slicing delicate meat and vegetables. With only one bevel, these styles of knife require less labor when sharpening. Some blades are specially made for export with a right-hand hone which left-handed people may find particularly useful.
2. Japanese Knives vs German Knives
Let’s explore the main differences between the two knife styles of Japan and Germany.
- The primary difference between the two knives is the steel with which they are forged.
- Japanese steel usually contains a high carbon content, and that means a harder knife.
- A more rigid blade isn’t necessarily the better choice as sharpening is usually required more regularly with a Japanese blade.
- Western knives are equal to a Japanese blade, and some may be preferable for Western tastes.
- Both blades are manufactured with a stainless steel finish.
- Due to the extra hardness of a Japanese blade, they can be forged more thinly without losing their strength.
- This lightness means less weight than opposing the German version when carrying out monotonous slicing or chopping.
- A German knife is generally a millimetre or so thicker than that of a Japanese blade. Slicing is more effortless due to the angle of the hand refining being 15 degrees to the German counterpart’s 20 degrees edge.
- German knives are generally machine sharpened, whereas Japan still prefers hand sharpening for their higher quality blades.
- Comparative German blades doing the same task tend to be curved at the end to allow for rocking when cutting.
- On the other hand, Japanese knives are forged almost straight and rely on their sharpness for a clean cut.
- Almost all high-quality German knives are full tanged: The blade and innards of the handle are forged in one piece, and the metal is shaped to fit the hand.
- The metal in the handle of a Japanese knife tapers inside the handle, leaving more weight in the blade. As a result, the front-heavy knife is invariably preferred for its balance and dexterous merits.
- Japanese knives are geared toward function over form: specialist precision for the task is more important than style.
- German knives cater for a broader function and are considered more multi-purpose.
3. Japanese Knife Types and Their Names
Deba bōchō in Japanese: 出刃包丁, means "pointed carving knife").
The Deba knife is used primarily to cut fish but is equally adept at cutting certain meats though not intended to cut or chop bone. A Deba knife can range from 6” long to over 13” depending on domestic or professional usage.
Santoku bōchō (Japanese: 三徳包丁; meaning "three virtues or uses")
The Santoku knife is designed for general-purpose use.
The blade is usually 5-8” in length, has a flat edge, and a blade that curves down an angle. Santoku refers to various tasks capable of slicing, chopping, and dicing and can be considered a utility knife.
Gyūtō bōchō (Japanese: 牛刀; meaning “cow sword”)
The Gyuto knife was originally for slicing beef but has evolved to become a multipurpose knife for many types of meat. Typically, a Gyuto knife is made from 7” to 12” but can be as large as 15” long. It is the Japanese equivalent of Chef's Knife.
Usuba bōchō (Japanese: 薄刃包丁 meaning “thin knife”)
The Usuba knife is a traditional vegetable slicer. Usuba is beveled on one side, with a hollow ground Murasaki on the other. An Usuba is flat-edged, with little or no curve.
The blade is tall to prevent knuckle rapping when chopping near a cutting board. An Usuba literally means "thin blade" for fine cutting through firm vegetables.
Yanagiba bōchō (Japanese: 柳刃包丁 meaning “willow blade knife”)
The Yanagiba is a long, thin knife typically used to cut blocks of flesh in a single stroke. As with the Sashimi bōchō, the Yanagiba is generally used to prepare sashimi and nigiri sushi of smooth, shiny slices for a more even taste. A Yanagi ba knife is available in various blade lengths, from 8” to 15”, the longer knives proving to be more popular. The Yanagiba is designed to cut on the pull as opposed to pushing the knife.
Sashimi bōchō (Japanese: 刺身包丁 meaning ‘pierced body knife”)
A Sashimi knife is specifically designed to thinly slice fish or other types of meat, as with the Yanagiba knife. Though the Sashimi knife can prepare sushi, most flexible single bevel knives are up to the task.
The difference between sushi and sashimi is that sashimi is mainly meat and flesh, whereas sushi also uses vegetables, seaweeds, and rice.
The Kiritsuke Knife (Japanese: キリッナイフ meaning “to slit open”)
The Kiirtsuke knife is almost a hybrid of the Gyuto and Yanagiba. Longer than a Gyuto and resembling a Yanigiba but with a broader blade. Kiritsuke is designed for fine slicing of raw fish or vegetables in a julienne style. Blade length varies from around 8” to 14”.
The Honesuki Knife (Japanese: ほねすき包丁 meaning “bone lover”)
If you could understand the Japanese language, the Honesuki leaves no doubt what the blade intended. This short, strong poultry boning knife is superb for preparing chicken, turkey, and smaller meat dishes. The blade length is usually around 5.5” to 6”, making short work of any poultry preps.
The Petty bōchō (Japanese: ささいなぼうちょmeaning “little knife”)
A Petty knife is a small utility and paring knife used for delicate paring and peeling small fruits or vegetables. A Petty knife ranges from 3” to 6” and is used as a utility kitchen knife. Perfect selection for any knife set
4. 5 Ultra Sharp Japanese Knives
- 66-layers of high-carbon stainless steel cladding provides exceptional strength, durability, and stain resistance.
- Incredibly sharp scalpel like edge is hand finished to a mirror polish within a staggering 8-12° degree angle using the traditional 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Nitrogen cooled for enhanced harness, flexibility and corrosion resistance
- Precisely tapered blade minimizes surface resistance for buttery smooth cut through.
- Mirror polished bolster provides a perfectly engineered balance and gently encourages a comfortable and proper pinch grip.
- This is high quality product and the price reflects that.
- Some people prefer a more classic design to the Tsunami Rose blade pattern.
- Though 7'' is standard for a santoku knife, some people prefer a shorter blade for prep work.
2. Honesuki Knife 5.5" | Single Bevel | Ronin Series
- If you were to design a blade to prepare poultry, we’re sure the majority of you would end up with a knife that looks like this- the Honesuki.
- The proportions are perfect for manipulating the blade around the joints and ligaments of any carcass, despatching the meat with superb clean cuts.
- The heft of the knife is intended to make light, quick work of butchery tasks.
- If you don’t prepare many chicken carcasses, you might prefer the lighter, thinner Deba knife.
- This is a specialist knife and not intended for more delicate cuts.
- The knife is a single bevel and, therefore, not intended for utility use.
- Who could consider buying a set of Japanese knives without a dedicated fish preparation blade?
- The Yanagiba design provides fish slice perfection. Unlike many knives from Japan, the Yanagiba is constructed intentionally with heft and weight to make light work of the most stubborn fish boning.
- The Yanagiba is created to resist stains and stay clean with a high level of chrome, making stickiness almost disappear.
- The scalpel-sharp blade edge is ice tempered for edge retention, meaning less sharpening.
- It is expertly balanced to provide the skill required to follow the contours of any shape of fish or seafood.
- You may be used to a slightly longer blade like our 10.5” ranges.
- The bevel is not as pronounced as the Ronin series.
- The handle on the Gladiator series may be more to your liking.
- The Kiritsuke push-cut knife incorporates a super-straight edge and sword-shaped tip.
- The Shogun Series version is double-beveled for multi-purpose use and makes a great utility knife.
- High carbon steel for scalpel sharpness and long-lasting edge retention means you have peace of mind for years.
- An ergonomically engineered handle makes slicing a breeze. Complete with a polymer sheath to protect the blade.
- As the Kiritsuke is for fine slicing, the blade shape may not be what you’re looking for.
- You may prefer the style from another series or be looking for a single bevel knife.
- The Nakiri or ‘leaf cutter’ knife implies how adept this blade is to chop vegetables and fruit finely, and the name is no accident.
- Push cutting prowess for repetitive vegetable and fruit slicing makes this a perfect cutlery addition.
- The hammered finish is not only beautiful but helps reduce drag and food sticking to the blade. The beauty is taken a step further with an intricate copper mosaic in the center rivet.
- You may prefer the cleaner lines of the Usuba knife.
- Perhaps you’d prefer more of a utility blade like the Santoku.
- You may prefer a single bevel series or curved starter blade like the Deba.
Wait… Have You Considered This Bonus Knife?
Yes, we know we intended to review 5 Ultra-sharp Japanese Knives, but we couldn’t resist presenting one of the most popular for sales; The Gyuto.
- The Gyuto is the nearest Japanese chef’s knife that’s recognizable to the Western-style knife design.
- The gently curving blade allows for a smooth rocking motion with its extended tip.
- The shape promotes a fast chopping action for meat, fish, and vegetables. The literal translation of "Gyuto” is “beef sword,” and the body, weight, and handling make it pretty obvious. However, the Gyuto has proven itself one of the most versatile knives in a kitchen cutlery collection.
- If you’re used to using the side of a blade as your spatula after slicing, the narrower width might not be for you.
- The knife is a little heavier than the Santoku, which performs similar tasks.
- You might prefer a cleaver style such as the Nakiri.
5. Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Knives
What should I be aware of when using a Japanese knife?
Most Japanese blades are hardened almost to the point of being brittle due to the need for ultimate sharpness. Don’t consider cutting on abrasive or rock-type surfaces such as granite or metal surfaces that will tend to dull the edge. Instead, look for a cutting board that will ‘give’ due to being softer than the blade. All knives need to be looked after.
Can I put my Japanese knife in a dishwasher?
No. A simple wash under the faucet with a bit of soap and water and a careful wipe with a paper towel, and you’re good to go. Look after the blade with the sheath if provided to protect it, or buy a suitable knife block.
Why are Japanese knives so special?
Japanese knives are often lighter than their counterparts in the West. The balance is superb, and the steel, whether stainless or otherwise, has a high carbon content making the edge razor sharp. Sharpening is usually quick, and professionals give testament to how well made they are. There are specialized knives for almost every task and blades. You’re buying quality and comfort, speed and reliability.
What is the Japanese version of the chef's knife?
Gyuto and Santoku are regarded as chef’s knives.
What should you avoid doing with a Japanese knife?
Aside from the obvious things you shouldn’t do with any knife (such as using one as a screwdriver, for example!), avoid any lateral movement that may cause the blade to chip or burr. Japanese knives are meant for specialist work, and they do that in a way that many Western knives struggle to equal.
How often should Japanese knives be sharpened?
The rate of sharpening depends on the amount of use and the type of food that has been sliced, chopped, or cut.
In general, once a month is adequate even for a professional due to the fantastic qualities of edge retention.
Are ceramic knives as sharp as a Japanese knives?
Though ceramic knives are as sharp as most steel knives, we don’t recommend them as they are more easily damaged or broken due to their exceptional hardness. Even slight twisting and flexing of a ceramic knife is likely to harm or chip it.
Will my Dalstrong knife rust?
Though some original Japanese high carbon steel knives have been known to rust, this is invariably due to inadequate care. Older knives contained fewer rust inhibitors, and today's knives are manufactured to the highest quality. Every care is taken to polish the blades, and are finished in high carbon stainless steel. A Dalstrong knife will not rust.
Written by Mike MillerMike is a late arrival to cooking. However, experimenting with vegetarianism and seafood is a new passion. That is if all the ingredients and tools are there! His curries are the talk of the family -and often in a good way! In his spare time, Mike has also discovered that walking ‘can’ be as enjoyable as driving after all!